November 18, 1999
Income tax forms may stump a lot of citizens but not a certain group of Tulane Law School students. They are spending their Saturdays helping low-income residents file their tax forms, free of charge. It's the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, organized this year by second-year law student Jeff Traynham and cosponsored by the American Bar Association and the Internal Revenue Service.
It's designed primarily to help poor, handicapped and elderly people fill out their taxes, because of the tax law changes every year, Traynham said. Anyone who is single and earning less than $25,000, or a family earning less than $50,000, is welcome to take advantage of VITA's tax preparation services. The program is also a way for Tulane law students to fulfill a 20-hour community-service requirement needed for graduation.
Students who participate as tax helpers must take an eight-hour training session and pass a lengthy test in order to be certified by the IRS, which is also providing electronic filing software for the project. So far, Traynham said 30 student volunteers have passed the test. About half of them ultimately plan to be tax law specialists while many others are third-year law students who need to complete the community service requirement, he added.
Volunteers will be ready to help with taxes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 6, 13, 20 and 27, as well as April 3 and 10. Other sessions are planned from 6 to 11 p.m. on April 14 and 15. Anyone who meets the income requirements can receive the tax assistance on the first floor of Weinmann Hall. Interested participants should enter the building from the Freret Street doors. Directions to the tax help room will be available in the building lobby.
Last year, 78 people were helped out by the VITA volunteers. Traynham hopes that number will increase to 150 or more this year, his second year to be involved in VITA. "I volunteered to help out this year and I ended up running it," he said. But hes not complaining; He will be a tax attorney at graduation "and the VITA experience, while it helps the community, also looks fairly good on my resume."
As for his favorite tax filing tip, Traynham recommended this: Pay attention to the earned income credit. It applies to anyone in that demographic and it's quite beneficial to low-income taxpayers. More information on VITA is available on the Internet at VITA.websp.com.
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